We’ve all heard the anecdotes about people hoarding fortresses of toilet paper. And you’ve probably seen the empty store shelves where home and cleaning supplies used to sit.
Now the numbers are coming in that give shape to those trends.
Sales of toilet paper were up 845% last week compared to the month prior, according to NCSolutions, which aggregates retail purchase data. Typically, toilet paper is between the 20th and 30th highest-selling product in US groceries and drug stores. On March 11 and 12, toilet paper was the number one seller in overall dollars.
And it wasn’t just toilet paper. Paper towel sales jumped 536%, and grocery staples like milk, soft drinks and fruits and veggies were up between 75-125%.
Those two days marked an “inflection point” for a whole set of new consumer trends that have taken effect since the virus started spreading in the country, said NCS CEO Linda Dupree.
“We expect consumer behavior to evolve over the course of this crisis,” she said.
There have already been clear stages of consumer action, starting with early preparedness buyers, then extreme, panicked purchases of home and food supplies. Dupree said the United States is now entering a more leveled out period of “confined shopping” with supply chains mostly intact, and without wild spikes, like the run on sanitizers in February and toilet paper last week.
Consumer are moving through new stages and habits at the pace of a, well … virus. But brands are trying to determine how these wild trends will impact their business.
Large CPG holding companies also benefit from added flexibility with their advertising, she said. For instance, if toilet paper is sold out in stores in New York City, a company like P&G could reallocate shopper marketing budgets from Charmin, say, to its paper towel brand Bounty.
Dupree said NCS has seen that kind of budget shifting with larger brand clients, who are trying to keep budgets in place without seeming callous, by advertising products that people are panic-buying, and without straining their own manufacturing supply chains.
The normal ROI calculations may be out the window, since ads aren’t affecting commerce right now compared to fears of the coronavirus. But brands are anxious to reconnect or maintain consumer relationships, Dupree said.
Pregnancy is often invoked as a lucrative inflection point when young adults reset their shopping patterns. It’s a chance for new brands and retail chains to sink roots in with consumers.
The COVID-19 disease could do something similar on a grand scale by resetting consumer patterns for millions of people, but in a way that marketers don’t understand and can’t forecast.
Dupree said that NCS clients anticipate that in two or three months, whenever the virus is contained, there will be “a new normal” for how millions of Americans shop and which brands they choose.
What will that new normal look like?
“The truth is that it’s just too early to understand.”